Internal Detours
Saturday, March 04, 2006
  Belle gets a makeover

Tuesday afternoon I finally replaced Belle's shifters and handlebar tape. The bar tape, a two-tone double wrap of light blue over black cotton Tressostar coated with shellac, had been in place since October 2001 or so, whenever it was I switched over to the T.A. triple crankset. The mid-70s SunTour bar end shifters had been there from the original build of the bike in December 2000.

The tape had actually matched Belle's paint - until the third coat of shellac went on. I had re-shellacked the tape once or twice a year since then, watching as it took on an organic appearance and my handlebars looked like some exotic snake out of the deepest, darkest swamp. It became greener and swampier over the years with each application of shellac, and would then wear in and and fade nicely under the summer sun.

The shifters were another matter. They were built to handle five or six cog rears. To make them successfully shift over an eight-speed cassette, I had to set the cable just exactly right. The last year or so, it wasn't quite there, and to get the chain up onto the 26T cog I often had to reach down beneath the cable housing stop on the downtube and tug the wire to get that last bit of necessary tension to make the shift.

Tuesday afternoon, the weather was warm and dry and I had a couple of hours free. The old tape came off easily enough, though the multiple layers of shellac gave it a texture like a twizzler. Despite frequent lubrication, the shifters were nasty and funky when I removed the mechanisms for access to the mounting bolts.

The new Rivendell Silver downtube shifters went on easily enough, once I got the old bolt-on housing stops off. After looking through my stash of bar tape (light blue cotton bar tape is no longer in production), I went with the Tresso I'd gotten from an iBOB last month. I broke out the Bullseye shellac, wrapped the bike up plastic to protect it from spatter and went to work. Three coats felt like they would protect the tape, but still came reasonably close to the frame's color.

The fixed-gear ride Ainsley and I had planned didn't happen Saturday - he'd had an emergency and couldn't make it. So I left the Mercian fixed-gear on the rack and took Belle down for a quick wipe down, pumped up the tires, stuffed the necessary stuff into the banana bag and headed out.

The first few shifts were interesting. I'd never used friction downtube shifting on a bike with more than seven cogs. I kept overshooting the gear I wanted, and it was the middle of the ride before I mastered them. The front derailleur wanted to creep back inwards until I firmly cinched down the center bolt with the handy D ring.

Saturday's route was basically an out and back - down the trail, right on Florida Avenue, cross the bypass, left on Alexander, left onto Briarwood and all the way out to Verdery. From there we took Highway 10 for half a mile to Cedar Springs road. The turn-around point was where Forest Service road 505/Curltail Creek Road dead-ends into the bumpy asphalt. We were pretty much riding to Jim's schedule, a not-infrequent occurrence on club rides, and he wanted to be back in around two hours.

Speedy Fred decided he'd had more than enough when we first hit 10; declaring he'd had enough of the bumpy roads, he burned on home along Highway 10 back to Greenwood.

I managed to persuade everyone else that, rather than completely retrace our steps, we might enjoy taking Highway 10 as far as Promised Land, then hook a right onto White Hall and back to Briarwood and the way we'd come out. Traffic on 10 wasn't bad, no worse than on many organized centuries I'd ridden in the Low Country. It wasn't long before we were passing through the hamlet sometimes called Promiseland (I know the sociologist who used that title for her book on the place - at one point one of the networks was considering basing a television series on it).

Founded by freed slaves after the Civil War, Promised Land isn't much to look at. It's fascinating to see it and know why it's there, though, and it's certainly livelier than many other communities that have become empty dots on the map over the years.

We turned right onto Briarwood. Had we turned left instead, we'd have been on New Zion. I had to explain to John that despite what the maps say, there is no open passage from the end of that road to the network of fire roads in the National Forest behind it.

"We just need to drive out there in a car and find the route," John said.

"John, you can't drive it. It turns into single track and it's closed off," I said, before explaining that even the satellite images show nothing but woods for about 1000 feet from the end of one of the branches off New Zion to the edge of Beulah Church Road.

We headed on in. I was back to noticing things about the Rivendell again. By this point I was leaving the chain on the 50T ring and shifting back and forth between the 19, 21 and 23T cogs. The shifts were smooth and intuitive now, no muss, no fuss. Belle felt solid and stable beneath me, smoothly carrying me down bumpy roads. I still didn't love the ride quality of the Continental tires currently on the bike, and made a mental note to order some more Roll-y Pol-y tires from Rivendell in the near future.

The weight reduction involved in going from bar end to downtube shifters is probably quite small, but psychologically the bike just felt lighter and livelier. Maybe it's the lighter handlebar tape color, I don't know. I do know I was really enjoying the bike again, and by the time I got home I was wondering why I hadn't gone to downtube levers a long time earlier.
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